By Laura Seymour
There have been studies galore about the importance of family dinners. In our busy lives, we are simply not sitting down together and talking to one another. Eating also adds an important component to the interaction — it hopefully fills our stomachs and relaxes us so that conversation flows. Sometimes it is hard to open a conversation — what should we talk about? Our family tradition was to ask each person to tell one good thing and one bad thing that happened to them that day. However, our family never had trouble thinking of things to talk about.
Today, you can buy “conversation starters” in little packs of cards or books. At camp, we have a scheduled time each day called “Pasek Z’man,” which means “time out,” and we use it for talking and sharing — something children need and want. (Yes, there is yet another study — it found that parents and children talk about 12 minutes each day, and seven of those minutes were parents telling kids what to do!) Let’s make our talking more meaningful. Now you expect from the Shabbat Lady a lesson on how to make it more Jewish. At camp, we give our staff pages of great questions and topics and a special page filled with Jewish quotes. We also teach how to study a text — simply read it out loud first, break it into pieces if needed and make sure everyone gets a chance to talk — no judgments/putdowns allowed! (That is especially important with siblings.) Make it fun — take these texts, cut them up and put them in a bowl and then pick one at random.
• In the final analysis, it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings. — Ann Landers
• Separate reeds are weak and easily broken; but bound together they are strong and hard to tear apart. — Tanchuma, Nitzavim 1
• If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? — Hillel
• Those who think they can live without others are wrong. But those who think that others can survive without them are even more in error. — Chassidic folk saying
• Only the learning that is enjoyed will be learned well. — Talmud
• If you will it, it is not a dream. — Theodor Herzl
• It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you excused from it. — Pirke Avot
• How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. — Anne Frank
• Pleasing everyone is an impossible aim, and escaping all criticism is an unattainable goal. — Moses ibn Ezra
• Say little and do much. — Pirke Avot
• Have confidence in yourself and others will have confidence in you. — Chassidic folk saying
• Through faith we experience the meaning of the world; through action we give the world meaning. — Rabbi Leo Baeck
Back to the subject of food, another interesting study showed that keeping kosher was a very high predictor of building a strong Jewish identity. We all eat often (some more than others) and if every time you eat something you have to think about whether it is kosher or not, you are thinking about being Jewish. Although I’ve never seen a study done, I’m betting this works even, or maybe especially, with those Jewish rebels who are sneaking a McDonald’s hamburger while thinking, “My mother would kill me if she knew.” Think about it — plan family dinners — talk to each other! Kids need it and so do adults.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.